MLK Day: A Day of Remembrance & Renewal

Media 01.13.06

Recipient: Interested Parties

TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Wade Henderson, LCCR Executive Director
RE: MLK Day: A Day of Remembrance & Renewal
DATE: January 13, 2006

We remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. not only for what he did, but for what he dreamed. His birthday provides the nation with an opportunity to remember the generation of giants who started the peaceful modern day revolution for civil rights. But for all that the nation has accomplished to achieve the goals of equal opportunity and social justice, much remains to be done — not just in expanding civil rights, but in preventing renewed efforts to rollback Dr. King’s achievements.

The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, has since its founding, coordinated the national campaign of every major civil rights law. Together with our more than 200 member organizations, we are working to advance the positions of the civil rights community and to confront these rollbacks and regressions.

Sadly, Dr. King’s dream of equal opportunity and social justice has not yet been realized. From preserving voting rights to protecting workers’ rights to a fair, healthy and safe workplace – the gains that we have made in the past several decades are at risk:

  • In the Courts and in the Congress: This week, the Senate convened hearings on a Supreme Court nominee whose hard line conservative ideology and narrow, regressive interpretation of the law left the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) no choice but to oppose his nomination. Samuel Alito’s carefully worded opinions and dissents regarding voting rights, civil rights, rights of workers, and women’s rights reveal hostility to the rights and freedoms Americans hold most dear.

  • At DOJ: The agency that was once the guardian against discrimination – the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division – has become politicized, contributing to a significant decline in civil rights enforcement., a mass exodus of experienced career attorneys, and a decrease in morale.

  • In the White House: Instead of directly meeting the rebuilding challenges created by Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration responded to the tragedy not by mobilizing the cavalry, but by sending in a Trojan horse. Whether or not by design, the administration has used the tragedy to waive, bend, and break federal laws that protect workers and our public health and safety, while suspending rules that help small and minority-owned businesses.

A number of matters of tremendous importance to the civil rights community – and all Americans – currently hang in the balance. For example:

Voting Rights
Even though the nation just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), we still have much to do to realize full voting rights. The disastrous problems of 2000 serve as a stark reminder of how much we still need to do.

The VRA, widely accepted as the nation’s most effective civil rights legislation, was renewed in 1982 for 25 years. Recently, Congress has begun to review certain sections of the VRA in order to again re-authorize the bill. Since enactment, the VRA has survived narrow interpretations by the Supreme Court, only to be amended by Congress in order to restore its original intention and capacity.

During the re-authorization, several provisions of the VRA will be up for renewal.

The gains of the last 40 years will be severely compromised if these provisions of the VRA are not protected. It’s important that our elected officials not only renew these critical provisions, but also ensure that they are not weakened by those seeking to disenfranchise minority voters.

Afflicting the Afflicted – The Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina

Helping the people of Louisiana and Mississippi recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina – and the social fissures it exposed – are among our nation’s most pressing problems. The hurricane not only tore a deep and wide hole in the social fabric, it opened a window on the continuing problems of race, class, poverty and inequality like nothing we’ve seen in many years. The question now is, Will our government respond by helping all, or just some, of those displaced by Katrina?

With hundreds of thousands of Gulf Coast residents still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, it is vital that Congress not only investigate the administration’s immediate response to Katrina, but also whether subsequent actions are doing additional harm to the very people who most need the help. Cutting wages for construction workers, ignoring federal procurement practices with no-bid contracts and the exclusion of small, minority and women owned businesses, and initiating a Medicaid waiver policy that protects the federal government more than it helps Katrina survivors are just a few of the decisions the administration has made that are hurting, rather than helping, the region’s survivors.

Judicial Nominations
The men and women who sit on our nation’s federal courts have the power to breathe life into the promise of our democracy. Far from being isolated interpreters of arcane aspects of our laws and Constitution, federal judges with the bang of a gavel can change how we work and live with one another–for better or for worse.

For many Americans, the federal judiciary is the first line of defense against violations of dearly held constitutional principles; for others, it is the last bastion of hope in a system that has marginalized, mistreated, or simply ignored them. This administration is poised to complete a right wing court-packing plan that began 20 years ago. And because federal judges are appointed for life, these right-wing judges will have the power to change the nation for decades to come.

Civil Rights Enforcement
Civil rights laws, once enacted, are meaningful only if they are duly enforced. But in recent years, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division’s workload has decreased significantly, signaling a lack of interest in meaningful civil rights enforcement. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law cites a drop in prosecutions of civil rights violations, down to 51 in 2003 from 83 in 2000. According to the Lawyers’ Committee, the loss of valued career attorneys, as well as “drastic” changes in Division hiring procedures, are “troubling” developments because they have “contributed to a clear perception of the politicization of the Division.”

The Department has had a long, non-ideological tradition of civil rights enforcement, but it is clear that this administration’s Justice Department puts political expediency ahead of vigorous enforcement of the law.

Dr. King once said “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable…Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

When it comes to civil rights, we have a unique responsibility to honor those courageous individuals who sacrificed, suffered, and struggled to enable our progress today. We honor and celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King and the many others who gave their lives, by building on the foundation that they created.

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